The sun broke through the London gloom bringing a burst of warmth. The brightness lit up the fancy brickwork façade on the old main block of the Queen Mary Imperial College, one of the many jewels of London University. On campus students were sprawled on the grass talking. Some were reluctantly strolling along the paths towards the many modern buildings that housed their lectures. It was one of those hot summer days in which nobody had any desire to be inside, indeed, nobody had any desire to do anything, except to loll about in the sun and talk.
But inside the Blizard Hall the Perrin lecture theatre was packed. It seated four hundred, but there was standing room only. They had come to hear Roger Comstock give one of his renowned talks on human evolution. He was the main man and could always be relied on to provide an interesting, lively exposition, with a few quirky controversial ideas thrown in for good measure. It made him extremely popular and well worth forsaking the pleasures of the languid summer heat.
Roger was coming to the end of his lecture.
‘And then there is the mystery of the Neanderthal man,’ Roger shrugged. ‘I feel very close to the Neanderthal,’ he explained with a broad smile. ‘Probably because, as a European, I always carry a bit of Neanderthal around with me. Up to 4% of our genome is made up of Neanderthal genes. They live on in us.’
There was a murmur of asides with some titters of laughter.
‘At one time we coexisted with the Neanderthal. We even bred with them. But then that isn’t so very unusual,’ he cocked his head and chuckled, ‘I’m sure we are all aware of some people who would try to bred with any species they could get their hands on.’
A louder chortle went round the lecture theatre.
‘Now I know some of you purists out there will be a bit sceptical here. Were Neanderthals really a separate species of humans? Surely if they were, by definition, they could not successfully interbreed. Well that is certainly open to debate. Perhaps we should technically regard them as a subspecies? It is a moot point. The truth of the matter is that these people were a distinct second group of humans with genetically different genomes and we did somehow manage to successfully interbreed with them.’
‘Just imagine what it would be like if we shared this planet with other species of man – human beings of a different kind with many characteristics that were not the same. Intelligent people like us but yet dissimilar. How would that affect our psychology?’
He allowed his audience to dwell on that for a moment or two.
‘Perhaps their thought patterns would be very divergent to ours. They might have novel ideas and views on life.’
‘Just think what an impact that might have on the way we behave if we weren’t the only intelligent beings on this planet.’
‘We’d probably wipe them out!’ One bold student called out.
‘hmmf – We probably did,’ Roger replied, peering into the dim vicinity from where the voice had come. He chuckled again. ‘We probably did.’
Turning back to address the auditorium. ‘At one point in our evolution, back in Africa, we did share the planet with other species of humans. There were at least four species of early man who coexisted on that continent. Would it affect our religious outlook? Our view of ourselves? Our social aims? Or our politics? I ask you, would we be different people if we shared this planet with other species of intelligent human beings? Perhaps humans who were more intelligent than ourselves? Would we see ourselves another way if we did not regard ourselves as the pinnacle of evolution?’
Roger paused and looked down at the floor as if in contemplation before looking back up at his audience.
‘When they dug up those early fossils in the Neander Valley near Dusseldorf, there was a lot of controversy. To start with there was this huge brain capacity. Neanderthals had considerably bigger brains than us. Their capacity was up to 1,600 cm3 as compared to our modest 1,200 to 1,450 cm3. We certainly couldn’t be having that now could we? It might well indicate that they were a good deal brighter than we were.’
There was another murmur.
‘Of course, brain size doesn’t necessarily equate with intelligence, does it? The sperm whale has a brain that is greatly bigger than humans, as does the elephant. Does that mean they are more intelligent?’
‘Neither of them have to work for a living,’ the same wag called out.
‘No, that is certainly true,’ Roger said smiling broadly, looking round towards the direction of the voice. ‘They don’t have to work. But they do get hunted and killed and none of them have yet developed any technology.’
‘Is developing hydrogen bombs a sign of intelligence?’ the discorporate voice called out.